What are the SAT and ACT?

The SAT and ACT are timed standardized tests used for admission into US universities. Both tests include multiple-choice questions, but the SAT has one section where students must provide their own answers (student-produced response) to 11 math questions. Both tests have sections on the English language, Reading, and Math. The ACT has a science reasoning section as well. Universities do not have a preference as to which test you submit; both tests are equally valued.

Do all US universities require the SAT or ACT?

During COVID, when many test centers cancelled test dates, the majority of universities became test-optional for a period of several years. Some have gone back to requiring tests and others might follow suit by the time you are in grade 12 and about to apply to university. Since students who have managed to score high and chose to submit scores to universities have seen higher rates of admission to selective universities, it is my recommendation that you prepare and take one of these two tests.

What is Test-Blind?

A few universities are test-blind. That means, they will not consider your test scores even if you want to submit scores. However, test-blind universities are few and far between. The University of California (UCLA, Berkeley, and others) and all California State Universities fall in this category. Caltech is also test-blind along with Reed, Pitzer and a few others.

How are the tests different from one another?

The ACT is a more straightforward test, covering what the student has learned in high school, but you have less time per question. The SAT is a more tricky test and includes material the student might not have encountered in high school to predict a student’s potential for learning (aptitude). The ACT includes a distinct science reasoning section, which is not present on the SAT. STEM students may benefit from performing well in this section, as it demonstrates their solid reasoning skills. On the other hand, the SAT intersperses science questions throughout its various sections.  The ACT offers a 40-minute optional essay section, but few universities require this. Finally, the digital SAT is one hour shorter than the 3-hour ACT.

How do I decide which test to prepare for?

The best way to decide whether the SAT or the ACT is right for you is to take a full-length timed practice test for each type. Factors such as how you handle time pressure and what types of questions you find more challenging can help us determine which test is a better fit for your style. This will be done through CCP so let me know if you wish to have a test scheduled.

When is a good time to begin test preparation?

Grade 10 is the ideal time to begin preparation for the SAT or ACT test. Whether you decide to begin your tutorials in September or January of grade 10 is up to you. However, don’t underestimate how much time and practice it will take to do well on the exam, especially given that the average student will likely be taking the test 2 or 3 times – occasionally more times than that. What we want to avoid is students having to spend the summer between grades 11 and 12 on test prep, forcing us to finalize their university list without having a test score in hand.

Can I self-study for the test?

I do not recommend tackling the test solely with self-preparation. If you wish to start working on
learning SAT vocabulary words or getting familiar with the content of the test on your own, it is perfectly okay to start that way, but learning strategy and especially how to use shortcuts to find the correct answers more quickly on the multiple-choice questions on these TIMED tests is essential. As well, it is best to work with a test prep specialist than just to work with a math or English tutor. A lot of strategy goes into test-taking and getting the correct response in as little time as possible, is an important factor. In other words, you do not need to go through all the steps for solving a math problem or show your work. All you need to do is to come up with the correct response as quickly as possible by eliminating the unlikely options.

Which section should I begin with?

Since students will have covered more math by the end of grade 10 than at the beginning, you are advised to begin working on the English portions of the test and leaving the math portions for later in your test preparation when your math skills will be more advanced.

How big a role will your MATH score play in your final score?

The answer to this question depends on whether you’re taking the ACT or SAT. On the ACT, Math accounts for one-fourth of your total score (your Math section score is averaged with your other three section scores). On the SAT, however, Math accounts for half of your total score, making it twice as important on the SAT! So if math isn’t your strong suit, consider opting for the ACT. With the ACT, a lower Math score won’t negatively affect your total score as much as it will on the SAT. Students can program their graphing calculators so that they can use these programs as shortcuts to solutions on both the ACT math and SAT calculator section whether taking the test digitally or on paper.

When is the ideal time to take the actual SAT or ACT?

Ideally, I would like to have students finish all testing and retesting BEFORE the end of grade 11. Some students manage to take their first test in the fall of grade 11, others test in December or January of grade 11 and others in the spring of the same academic year. Occasionally, I have students completing their testing by the end of grade 10 but that is rare.

How do I register for testing?

Register for taking the SAT through  collegeboard.org and for the ACT through ACT.org. It is best to register when your test prep tutor tells you that you are ready for testing and definitely after you have been consistently getting the score you are targeting on TIMED mock tests. You must register for tests months in advance of the test date as some test dates are very popular and book quickly. Each test is offered about 7 times per year at various test centers or schools.

How are the tests scored and what is a good score?

The SAT is scored out of a total of 1600 points and the ACT out of 36 points. A good score is one that is above the median scores of admitted students for the universities you are targeting. If you are targeting Stanford and Harvard, 33+ is a good ACT score and 1550+ would be best for the SAT. If you are targeting a university like MIT, then a perfect score on the Math is essential.

Final words of advice:

Once you begin test preparation, you have to take it seriously and move forward full force. You cannot close the books for 3 months of the summer or skip practice for several months. I suggest you take multiple timed mock tests to determine your readiness prior to tackling the real test. In other words, we do not want you to take a real test to ‘just see’ how you do until we are sure you are ready; some universities require the results of ALL your tests – while others allow you to send in the results you choose to share. The goal is to get the testing over with as soon as you can. It is a burden off of your shoulders and one less thing to spend precious time on – not to mention, a savings for your parents if you don’t spend two years in test prep classes or tutorials.

Business Essay on SAT & ACT